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March 1 - 2

Beyond Good & Evil: The Films of Albert Lewin

While it might seem strange to name a retrospective of the films directed by an MGM screenwriter and producer after Nietzsche's classic, Albert Lewin (1894-1968) was anything but a typical Hollywood figure. Lewin’s films are noteworthy for their fascination with the aesthetic, esoteric and perverse, as well as for their unusual protagonists – artists and decadents whose dark obsessions place them at odds with the conventional world. Lewin’s own stylistic obsessions gave way to his careful mastery of mise-en-scène that weds polished filmmaking in the classical Hollywood style with a passion for exotic décor and singular works of art.

A Harvard graduate, Lewin went to Hollywood in the 1920s, working first as a screenwriter before becoming one of MGM’s most important producers of the 1930s, overseeing major prestige pictures such as box office sensation Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) and The Good Earth (1937). The consummate studio insider, Lewin was also a stalwart aesthete and passionate art collector who counted Man Ray and Max Ernst among his friends. When he began directing in the 1940s, Lewin attempted to fuse classical narrative filmmaking with his fascination for the baroque, the decadent and the surreal. Films like The Picture of Dorian Gray and Pandora and the Flying Dutchman have earned him a following among those who appreciate cinema's aptitude for suggesting the mysterious and the unseen.

The Moon and Sixpence was preserved by the George Eastman House with funding from the National Endowment for The Arts. The Private Affairs of Bel Ami was preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding from the Film Foundation and the AFI Challenge Grant for Film Preservation.

Saturday March 1 at 7pm

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Directed by Albert Lewin.
With George Sanders, Hurd Hatfield
US 1945, 35mm, b/w and color, 110 min.

The title character of Oscar Wilde's novel is a narcissistic young man who, upon having his portrait painted, vows to stay as young and beautiful as the picture. He gets his wish but at a terrible price. Every bit the aesthete Wilde was, Lewin creates the perfect dreamlike ambience for this strange story out of foggy British locales, Angela Lansbury's haunting renditions of the song Little Yellow Bird, and the monotonal acting of Hurd Hatfield as Dorian Gray. With a mise-en-scène that mixes the surreal and the expressionist, the film suggests more violence than it shows, in the style of the great Val Lewton.

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Saturday March 1 at 9:15pm

The Moon and Sixpence

Directed by Albert Lewin.
With George Sanders, Herbert Marshall
US 1942, 35mm, b/w and color, 89 min.

A spirited adaptation of Somerset Maugham’s famous novel (itself loosely based on the life of Gaugin), Lewin’s debut feature clearly announces the signature pre-occupation that will carry across all of his films: the incompatibility of the artistic impulse and bourgeois mores. Charles Strickland is a respectable London stockbroker until he rejects his safe, comfortable life to become a painter and relocates to Tahiti. It is easy to see Strickland’s change of life as a parallel to Lewin's career shift from studio executive to director of a string of boldly eccentric films. Sanders plays the painter as a heartless louse but a brilliant artist, a contradiction that is the leitmotif of the actor’s other roles for Lewin.

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Sunday March 2 at 3pm

The Private Affairs of Bel Ami

Directed by Albert Lewin.
With George Sanders, Angela Lansbury
US 1947, 35mm, b/w, 110 min.

Sanders returns in the title role of Lewin’s adaptation of a Guy de Maupassant story about a soldier who returns from the battlefield to find himself without means in 19th century Paris. He uses his looks to make his way, climbing the social ladder via affairs with five women. Although he is a misogynistic and self-serving scoundrel, the women find Bel Ami's cold erotic simmer irresistible. In fact, director Lewin develops Bel Ami as an homme fatal, an object of desire. This film, along with The Moon and Sixpence and The Picture of Dorian Gray, forms a Lewin trilogy on art and perversity.

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Sunday March 2 at 7pm

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman

Directed by Albert Lewin.
With Ava Gardner, James Mason, Nigel Patrick
US/UK 1951, 35mm, color, 122 min.

The title roles are played by Ava Gardner and James Mason. She is
Pandora, the center of a group of British and American expatriates living in a small town on the Spanish coast. Desired by all the men around her, she destroys them one by one in her search for a partner willing to sacrifice everything for love. She meets her match when a mysterious man arrives from the sea. In this strange, haunting and ultimately moving tale of passion unto death, a femme fatale meets the Flying Dutchman, another version of Lewin's homme fatal. The film marks the apotheosis of Lewin's knack for blending the baroque and the surreal; he hired his friend Man Ray to be the still photographer on set.

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Sunday March 2 at 9:15pm

The Living Idol

Directed by Albert Lewin.
With Steve Forrest, Liliane Montevecchi, James Robertson Justice
US/Mexico 1957, 35mm, color, 100 min.
Print is in English with French subtitles

Lewin's fascination with the exotic and the esoteric comes to a head in his final film. A British archaeologist working in Mexico becomes convinced that a local woman is actually the reincarnation of an Aztec princess. The idea of Mexico as a place where the archaic coexists with the modern fascinated foreigners from Antonin Artaud to William Burroughs. Having already juxtaposed the archaic and the modern in Pandora, Lewin revisits this trope here. The Living Idol dares the ridiculous (even) more than most other Lewin films, and doesn't always pass the test. But its striking use of widescreen cinematography, as in the climactic moment of a sinister panther stalking a deserted Mexico City plaza, makes it a worthy companion to Dorian Gray and Pandora.

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